Hollywood's Citizen News
June 25, 1943
STRANGE AS IT SEEMS
When he was 66, Mr. Burroughs enlisted in the Business Men's Training Corps in Honolulu.
This is a volunteer group of businessmen who banded together after Pearl Harbor
to frustrate any further Jap attacks that might occur.
He was commissioned an officer in this organization.
In drill he could outwalk the younger men.
How I Wrote the Tarzan Books
Edgar Rice Burroughs
THE WASHINGTON POST &
NEW YORK WORLD SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT- "THE WORLD MAGAZINE"
OCTOBER 27, 1929
(The week of the stock market crash)
With his thirty-first and latest novel, "Tarzan and the Lost Empire", Edgar Rice Burroughs' books have passed the 8,000,000 mark in American and British editions alone. They have been translated into sixteen foreign languages. Yet at thirty-five, when Burroughs began to write, he had "failed at every enterprise attempted". He is now fifty-four years old, wealthy, and lives on his ranch in Southern California.
I have often been asked how I came to write. The best answer is that I needed the money. When I started I was 35 and had failed in every enterprise I had ever attempted.
I was born in Chicago. After epidemics had closed two schools that I attended, my parents shipped me to a cattle ranch in Idaho where I rode for my brothers who were only recently out of college and had entered the cattle business as the best way of utilizing their Yale degrees. Later, I was dropped from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; flunked examinations for West Point; and was discharged from the regular army on account of a weak heart. Next, my brother Henry backed me in setting up a stationery store in Pocatello, Idaho. That didn't last long either.
When I got married in 1900 I was making $15 a week in my father's storage battery business. In 1903 my oldest brother, George, gave me a position on a gold dredge he was operating in the Stanley Basin country in Idaho. Our next stop was in Oregon, where my brother Henry was managing a gold dredge on the Snake River. We arrived on a freight wagon, with a collie dog and $40. Forty dollars did not seem like much to get anywhere with, so I decided to enter a poker game at a local saloon and run my capital up to several hundred dollars during the night. When I returned at midnight to the room we had rented, we still had the collie dog. Otherwise, we were not broke.
I worked in Oregon until the company failed, and then my brother got me a job as a railroad policeman in Salt Lake City. We were certainly poverty-stricken there, but pride kept us from asking for help. Neither of us knew much about anything that was practical, but we had to do everything ourselves, including the family wash. Not wishing to see Mrs. Burroughs do work of that sort, I volunteered to do it myself. During those months, I half soled my own shoes and did numerous odd jobs.
Then a brilliant idea overtook us. We had our household furniture with us, and we held an auction which was a howling success. People paid real money for the junk and we went back to Chicago first class. The next few months encompassed a series of horrible jobs. I sold electric light bulbs to janitors, candy to drug stores, and Stoddard's Lectures from door to door. I had decided I was a total failure, when I saw an advertisement which indicated that somebody wanted an expert accountant. Not knowing anything about its I applied for the job and got it.
I am convinced that what are commonly known as "the breaks," good or bad, have fully as much to do with one's success or failure as ability. The break I got in this instance lay in the fact that my employer knew even less about the duties of an expert accountant than I did.
Next I determined there was a great future in the mail-order business, and I landed a job that brought me to the head of a large department. About this time our daughter Joan was born. Having a good job and every prospect for advancement, I decided to go into business for myself, with harrowing results. I had no capital when I started and less when I got through. At this time the mail-order company offered me an excellent position if I wanted to come back. If I had accepted it, I would probably have been fixed for life with a good living salary. Yet the chances are that I would never have written a story, which proves that occasionally it is better to do the wrong thing than the right.
When my independent business sank without a trace, I approached as near financial nadir as one may reach. My son, Hulbert, had just been born. I had no job, and no money. I had to pawn Mrs, Burroughs' jewelry and my watch in order to buy food. I loathed poverty, and I should have liked to have put my hands on the man who said that poverty is an honorable estate. It is an indication of inefficiency and nothing more. There is nothing honorable or fine about it. To be poor is quite bad enough. But to be poor without hope . . . well, the only way to understand it is to be it.
I got writer's cramp answering blind ads, and wore out my shoes chasing after others. At last l got placed as an agent for a lead pencil sharpener. I borrowed office space, and while subagents were out, trying unsuccessfully to sell the sharpener, I started to write my first story.
I had good reason for thinking I could sell what I wrote. I had gone thoroughly through some of the all-fiction magazines and I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read I could write stories just as rotten. Although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.
I knew nothing about the technique of story writing, and now, after eighteen years of writing, I still know nothing about the technique, although with the publication of my new novel, "Tarzan and the Lost Empire", there are 31 books on my list. I had never met an editor, or an author or a publisher. I had no idea of how to submit a story or what I could expect in payment. Had I known anything about it at all I would never have thought of submitting half a novel; but that is what I did.
Thomas Newell Metcalf, who was then editor of The All-Story magazine, published by Munsey, wrote me that he liked the first half of a story I had sent him, and if the second half was as good he thought he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I would never have finished the story, and my writing career would have been at an end, since l was not writing because of any urge to write, nor for any particular love of writing. l was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.
I finished the second half of the story, and got $400 for the manuscript, which at that time included all serial rights. The check was the first big event in my life. No amount of money today could possibly give me the thrill that first $400 check gave me.
My first story was entitled, "Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars." Metcalf changed it to "Under the Moons of Mars." It was later published in book form as "A Princess of Mars."
With the success of my first story, l decided to make writing a career, though I was canny enough not to give up my job. But the job did not pay expenses and we had a recurrence of great poverty, sustained only by the thread of hope that I might make a living writing fiction. I cast about for a better job and landed one as a department manager for a business magazine. While I was working there, I wrote "Tarzan of the Apes", evenings and holidays. I wrote it in longhand on the backs of old letterheads and odd pieces of paper. I did not think it was a very good story and I doubted if it would sell. But Bob Davis saw its possibilities for magazine publication and I got a check . . . this time, l think, for $700.
I then wrote "The Gods of Mars", which I sold immediately to the Munsey Company for All-Story. "The Return of Tarzan", which I wrote in December, 1912, and January, 1913, was rejected by Metcalf and purchased by Street & Smith for $1,000 in February, 1913. That same month John Coleman, our third child, was born, and I now decided to devote myself to writing.
We were a long way from home. My income depended solely upon the sale of magazine rights. I had not had a book published at that time, and therefore no book royalties were coming in. Had I failed to sell a single story during those months, we would have been broke again. But I sold them all.
That I had to work is evidenced by a graph that I keep on my desk showing my word output from year to year since 1911. In 1913, it reached its peak, with 413,000 words for the year. I had been trying to find a publisher who would put some of my stuff into book form, but I met with no encouragement. Every well-known publisher in the United States turned down "Tarzan of the Apes", including A.C. McClurg & Co., who finally issued it, my first story in book form.
It's popularity and its final appearance as a book was due to the vision of J. H. Tennant, editor of the New York Evening World. He saw its possibilities as a newspaper serial and ran it in the Evening World, and the result was that other papers followed suit. This made the story widely known, and resulted in a demand from readers for the story in book form, which was so insistent that A.C. McClurg & Co. finally came to me after they rejected it and asked to be allowed to publish it. And that's how I became a writer!
Protecting the Author's Rights
Edgar Rice Burroughs
THE WRITERS 1932 YEAR BOOK & MARKET GUIDEWhen I started writing, a little more than twenty years ago, my literary experience had not progressed much beyond the harness section of Sears-Roebuck's catalogue; and I did not know the name of the editor of that. I doubt that I knew the name of any editor, and I certainly was not acquainted with one personally; to the best of my knowledge I did not even know a single writer. I thought authors were long-haired nuts with Windsor ties and halitosis, and editors grouchy old gentlemen with fuzzy white beards and spectacles. That was before I had met such men as Don Kennicott, Edwin Balmer, Ray Long, and Bob Davis.
As to writers, I do not know much about them even yet; but judging by the lengths some of them go to obtain publicity I feel that I was not far wrong in my original estimate of their mentality, and a lot of them look as though they had halitosis.
But what I knew about writers and editors was encyclopedic compared with what I knew about any phase of the profession of literature. Doubtless there are reviewers who will opine that I have not greatly increased my knowledge in the ensuing twenty years -- but it is not of the technique of writing that we are concerned at the moment; it is with a certain aspect of the practical rather than the artistic side of writing that I wish to deal.
Among the innumerable things of which I was ignorant were the various rights inherent in literary productions. Vaguely, in a hazy, muddy sort of way, I realized that magazines and books were different; and so, when I sent out my first manuscript, I insisted upon retaining the book rights. Not knowing about any of the other rights, I generously passed them all over to the magazine. Of course there may be some question as to the degree of my generosity inasmuch as I did not know that I was passing over anything and since, at the time, they were quite valueless.
I had sold a number of stories before I awoke to the fact that I had been parting with something that might, some day be valuable; and thereafter I offered fix serial rights only, a description which has since talk the form of first American and Canadian magazine rights only. This latter is one which I advise all writer to adopt, since it precludes the possibility of later misunderstandings in relation to second magazine rights and definitely retains for the writer his newspaper rights.
In connection with the rights which I gave away there later occurred one of those things which could have happened in a few lines of business and which constitute, with numerous other pleasant incidents, the basis of my belief that writing is as altogether as satisfactory a means of livelihood as one may find. Long after these rights became valuable the magazines that had acquired them through my ignorance reassigned them to me without question and without payment; and in addition to this every magazine that has ever copyrighted one of my stories in its name has given me a proper legal assignment of such copyright.
Of late years I have been fortunate in having been able to arrange for the copyrighting of magazine stories in my own name or that of my corporation; but to those who are unable to make such an arrangement with the magazines for which they write, I suggest that they insist that immediately upon the completion of the copyright by the magazine it be legally assigned to them.
I have found that there is no better aid in the protection of an author's rights in his work than the recordation of the copyright in his own name or, as in my case, the name of a corporation which he controls. This is especially true in the protection of motion picture rights and the marketing of them, as producers insist, for their own protection, upon determining the ownership of the copyright, and often employ attorneys to consult the records at Washington before they will enter into a contract for the motion picture rights in a story.
Furthermore, there are some unscrupulous producers or agents who are constantly checking copyright ownership at Washington in the hope of buying up copyrights in valuable material the copyright to which does not stand in the name of the author.
But owning the copyright does not necessarily give you all the rights in your work if you have been careless in the transferring of rights and licenses to others. I have already mentioned the necessity of thinking of your newspaper and second magazine rights when you dispose of your first magazine rights. Twenty years ago I thought I was getting all there was out of it when sold all the serial rights in a story for a quarter of a cent a word, but since then I have sold second magazine rights in those same stories for many times what all the former rights brought me then.
I have never taken my work very seriously and I am afraid that I never shall, but I take the business end of it quite seriously. It was only inexperience that drew me into my first errors. Of course I have made a lot since, but I endeavor not to make the same one twice. however, I am still constituted much as I was twenty years ago, when the idea of actual cash dramatic rights existing in Tarzan of the Apes would have given me nothing more serious than a laugh. Yet only a few years after it was published I entered into a contract for its production in England, where it ran with greater or less (mostly less) success in the provinces for some time. It was not a hit, but it might have been, and it may some day lie. What you are writing today may be a hit some time. It has certain potential values which you should protect.
Equally remote were the possibilities of profiting from foreign and translation rights. A kindly providence who looks after infants, inebriates, and young authors, preserved my foreign and translation rights to me. Afterward, my foreign royalties were, at one time, greater than my United States royalties. It paid me well to own them. Therefore, never underrate the value of any of your rights; laugh at them, if you will; but hang on to them.
Since those simple days of twenty years ago, when I blithely gave away a fortune in rights that I did not know existed, many changes have taken place, bringing new rights with them. Today I am closing a radio contract covering the dramatic presentation of my stories over the air. What a far cry from second magazine rights. Within a year I have seen a television clause inserted in one of my motion picture contracts; and today I am watching my television rights with as great solicitude as I watch any of the others, for long before my copyrights expire television rights will be worth a fortune. Possibly not mine, but some one's -- perhaps yours. I am going to hang onto mine, however; and at least I can get a smile out of them now, if I never get anything else.
Perhaps in my radio contract I shall insist upon the reservation to me of the interplanetary rights. Why not? Radio rights and sound and dialogue rights would have seemed as preposterous twenty years ago; and with my intimate knowledge of conditions on other worlds, I, of all men, should anticipate the value of broadcasting Tarzan to the eager multitudes that swarm our sister planets. In addition to which I am accorded another smile in a world none too generous with smiles since Wall Street started weeping down all our backs.
In some instances writers are now compelled to fight for certain rights, particularly those who enter into motion picture contracts; and this is wrong. Such things should be as much a matter of standard practice as are the efforts of motion picture producers to falsify royalty accounts.
Perhaps, when the Authors' League gets the Vestal copyright bill off its chest, as it may during the next fifty-six years, it will have time to devote to other things; and then, let us hope, it may negotiate the adoption of standard practices upon the part of all the various markets wherein writers sell their wares. All rights should be clearly and definitely defined so that there may be no misapprehension nor confusion concerning their interpretation. For example, our term serial rights is too general in its significance; the word serial should be abandoned and publication substituted for it. Then we would have: First magazine publication rights, second magazine publication rights, newspaper publication rights, book publication rights; and everyone would know what the other fellow was talking about.
It is something that we should give thought to, if for no other reason than to impress upon our minds the fact that in entering into agreements we should be quite certain that every reference to rights mentioned in the agreement is based upon a clear understanding by all parties of the definition of such rights, and that such a definition is embodied in the contract.
In closing, I should like to leave another thought with you. It is based upon a practice I have been trying to establish (not always successfully) in relation to certain of my own rights; it might be called the reversion of rights.
Owners lease houses, real estate, yachts, and other possessions for definite periods of time, at the end which all rights in the property revert to them. There are certain rights in literary productions that may be leased, rather than sold outright, to the great advantage of the author; and if the principle may be gradually established by the insistence of authors in a position to insist and with the moral aid of the Authors' League and others concerned with the welfare of writers, eventually will be accepted by the buyers of these rights as a matter of common practice.
There are many reasons why such a plan may be advantageous to authors without working any hardship on the original lessee. The latter is interested primarily and almost wholly in immediate profits; he would a not buy these rights on the prospects of profits to be derived ten years later. Therefore, he is not paying for the profits that may be derived subsequent to a reasonable earning life of the property and, consequently, should not own them.
The principal advantages to the author are the possibly remote contingency of increased value after a lapse of years and the ability to take these rights off the market upon the termination of the lease. This latter is especially important in the matter of motion picture and radio rights, and will be in television rights when they develop.
Sales of motion picture rights are often embarrassed, complicated, or stopped by the natural fear on the part of a potential purchaser that the owner of the picture rights in another story by the same author will reissue it for the purpose of reaping the benefits of expensive exploitation of the later picture, at the same time competing with the new picture in the exhibitor market. Doubtless, similar conditions will arise in connection with radio and television rights.
Three years should be the limit of radio contracts, at least until we have gained greater knowledge of this field through experience; five to ten years should be the limit of motion picture contracts, most of which can be negotiated on a seven year basis. We may safely leave the duration of television and interplanetary rights to the future.
In any event, watch all of your rights all of the time; they are the basis of your entire literary estate. You will find plenty of people willing and anxious to steal them, and in remote corners of the earth, too. I have had rights purloined in Italy, Russia, and India, and, of course, New York; but naturally a man cannot be expected to watch all the thieves on this planet when, so much of his time is spent on Mars and Venus . . .
Beloved by small boys, emulated by growing lads, and sighed over on occasion by adults, Tarzan of the Apes remains today the symbol of the back-to-the-primeval spirit that gives little boys the nightmare and either sends their elder brothers mooning up the stairs to day dream, or ejects them whooping out the front door looking for a dog to chase.
Eighteen years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs playfully conceived "Tarzan of the Apes." He did it with no more African experience than came to him as department manager of Sears-Roebuck, and later treasurer of the American Battery Co.
Today, Tarzan is in the magazines, cartoon strips, novels, newspapers, and on the radio, and stage. Besides the long Tarzan series Mr. Burroughs has written "Thuvia, Maid of Mars," "The Warlord of Mars," and in fact a complete series of adventures in love, war, and death on Mars. His character Tarzan, one can honestly say, has been pressed into the consciousness of the nation.--- THE WRITERS 1932 YEAR BOOK & MARKET GUIDE
An Autobiographical Sketch
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Rob Wagner's SCRIPT - July 9, 1932
I am sorry that I have not led a more exciting existence, so that I might offer a more interesting biographical sketch; but I am one of those fellows who has few adventures and always gets to the fire after it is out.
I was born in Peking at the time that my father was military advisor to the Empress of China, and lived there, in the Forbidden City, until I was ten years old. An intimate knowledge of the Chinese language acquired during those years has often stood me in good stead since, especially in prosecuting two of my favorite studies, Chinese philosophy and Chinese ceramics.
Shortly after the family returned to the United States I was kidnapped by gypsies and held by them for almost three years. They were not unkind to me. and in many respects the life appealed to me, but eventually I escaped and returned to my parents.
EVEN TODAY, after the lapse of many years, I distinctly recall the storm-torn night of my escape. Pedro, the king of the gypsies, always kept me in his tent at night where he and his wife could guard me. He was a very light sleeper, which had always presented a most effective obstacle to my eluding the clutches of my captors.
This night the rain and wind and thunder aided me. Waiting until Pedro and his wife were asleep, I started to crawl toward the tent flap. As I passed close beside the king one of my hands fell upon a hard metal object lying beside him; it was Pedro's dagger. At the same instant Pedro awoke. A vivid lightning flash illuminated the interior of the tent, and I saw Pedro's eyes fixed upon me.
Perhaps fright motivated me, or perhaps it was just anger against my abductors. My fingers closed upon the hilt of his dagger, and in the darkness that followed the lightning I plunged the slim steel blade deep into his heart. He was the first man I had ever killed; he died without a sound.
My parents were rejoiced by my return, as they had long since abandoned all hope of ever seeing me again. For a year we travelled in Europe, where under a tutor, I pursued my interrupted education to such good effect that I was able to enter Yale upon our return.
WHILE AT YALE I won a few athletic honors, annexing both the heavyweight boxing and wrestling championships; and in my senior year I captained the football team and the crew. Graduating summa cum laude, I spent two years at Oxford and then returned to the United States and enlisted in the army for a commission from the ranks.
At the end of two years I received my appointment as a second lieutenant and was attached to the 7th Cavalry. My first active service was with Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn, of which I was the sole survivor.
My escape from death during the massacre was almost miraculous. My horse had been shot from under me, and I was fighting on foot with the remnant of my troop. I can only guess at what actually occurred; but I believe that the bullet that struck me in the head must have passed through the head of the man in front of me and, with its force spent, merely have stunned me.
I fell with my body between two small boulders; and later a horse was shot above me, his body falling on top of mine and concealing it from the eyes of the enemy, the two boulders preventing it's weight from crushing me. Gaining consciousness after dark, I crawled from beneath the horse and made my escape.
AFTER WANDERING for six weeks in an effort to elude the Indians and rejoin my people, I reached an army outpost, but when I attempted to rejoin my regiment I was told that I was dead. Insistence upon my rights resulted in my being arrested for impersonating an officer. Every member of the court knew me and deeply deplored the action they were compelled to take; but I was officially dead, and army regulations are army regulations. I took the matter to Congress, but had no better success there; and finally I was compelled to change my name, adopting that which I now use, and start life all over again. . .
For several years I fought Apaches in Arizona. but the monotony of it palled upon me, and I was overjoyed when I received a telegram from the late Henry M. Stanley inviting me to join his expedition to Africa in search of Dr. Livingstone.
I accepted immediately and also put five hundred thousand dollars at his disposal, but with the understanding that my name or my connection with the expedition was not to be divulged, as I have always shrunk from publicity.
SHORTLY AFTER ENTERING AFRICA I became separated from the relief party and was captured by Tippoo Tib's Arabs. The night that they were going to put me to death I escaped, but a week later I fell into the hands of a tribe of cannibals. My long, golden hair and my flowing mustache and beard of the same hue filled them with such awe that they accorded me the fearful deference that they reserved for their primitive gods and demons.
They offered me no harm, but kept me a prisoner among them for three years. They also kept in captivity several large anthropoid apes of a species which I believe is entirely unknown to science. The animals were of huge size and of great intelligence; and during my captivity I learned their language, which was to stand me in such good stead when I decided, many years later, to record some of my experiences in the form of fiction.
I finally escaped from the cannibal village and made my way to the coast, where, penniless and friendless, I shipped before the mast on a windjammer bound for China.
Wrecked off the coast of Asia, I eventually made my way overland to Russia, where I enlisted in the imperial cavalry. A year later it happened to be my good fortune to kill an anarchist as he was attempting the assassination of the Czar; for this service I was made a captain and attached to the imperial bodyguard.
It was while in his Majesty's Service that I met my wife, a lady-in-waiting to the Czarina; and when, shortly after we were married, my grandfather died and left me eight million dollars we decided to come to America to live.
With my wife's fortune and mine, it was unnecessary for me to work; but I could not be idle; so I took up writing, more as a pastime than as a vocation.
We lived in Chicago for some years and then came to Southern California, where we have lived for more than thirteen years at that now famous watering place, Tarzana.
We have eleven children, seventeen grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.
I have tasted fame... it is nothing.
I find my greatest happiness in being alone with my violin.
For more ERB articles and short works visit:
Lost Words of Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Hypertexted Guide to ERB's Obscure Articles & Poetry
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2006/2019 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.